KENAI (AP) — Members of the governing body of an Alaska borough roughly the size of West Virginia won't hold meetings in 2022 outside the governing city, a practice that became a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough this week nixed annual one-time, in-person meetings in the communities of Seward and Homer, instead opting to continue holding all meetings over Zoom from the borough seat in Kenai, the Peninsula Clarion reported.
The practice of traveling to the other communities was suspended in both 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.
Assembly member Brent Hibbert said meetings outside Kenai involve travel time for staff to set up, but indicated the Zoom meetings allow others to participate. He noted that at Tuesday's meeting, two mayors — including one from Seldovia, a community that is a boat ride across Kachemak Bay from Homer — joined by Zoom.
"I don't know why we can't do this by Zoom," said Hibbert, who voted against in-person meetings. "We have the capabilities. It keeps us off the road, it keeps us safe. We're not driving back in the dark."
Assembly member Cindy Ecklund supported holding the meetings outside of Kenai.
"There's so many people serving the borough in these other areas," Ecklund said. "I just thought that would be something that people would want to do. … (It's) one time a year, guys."
Supporters said traveling to other communities offers the chance for assembly members to make personal connections with people in those communities.
"You have borough assembly members from the small communities that travel to Kenai and Soldotna all the time, and nobody talks about the safety and the travel for those assembly members," Homer resident Ingrid Harrald told assembly members.
"As somebody who is very involved in local politics, me talking over Zoom or over the phone does not have the impact of sitting in front of you," Harrald said.